Now, I hope no one will get offended by what is clearly meant to be somewhat tongue and cheek with a bit of truth mixed in. The truth part is that our beloved, hardcore techie geeks are not known on a general level for being the most, well, likeable. And by likeable, I mean engaging, charismatic, and socially aware. In other words, I am talking about its usage in the modern social media realm. (I know because I grew up with one, whom I adore, but he does take some getting used to. Consider Saturday morning conversations at the breakfast table with me trying to relay some teenage angst issue while my dad programs code in his head, even jumping up from the table shouting, “That’s it! That will work!” while he runs off to fix whatever dilemma he has been stewing on and I am left in midsentence.)
It isn’t so much that they are mean-spirited or trying to be rude.
It is just very difficult for them to observe what is going on outside of their brains, especially when they are stewing on the latest technical problem, which is, let’s face it, all the time.
In times past, generally, techies and their likeability factor was not much of an issue. When companies were racing to integrate technology into their landscape, they didn’t care if the geniuses huddled in the back corner in their cubicles were all that social. They just wanted to get up and running before the competition even if leadership had no idea what their techies were talking about. (I can remember when at my first job after college, my boss told me, “Just do whatever IT tells you to do. You don’t want to upset them. Their smarter than us.”)
Today, however, although that scenario can still be somewhat true, technology as a concept is no longer all that new or mysterious (even if the details still are) and leadership is looking to communicate more with IT. It wants more of a dialogue, and honestly, the rest of the corporate staff no longer want to tiptoe around the IT department, afraid of upsetting the apple cart. For now, many larger size corporations have brought in intermediaries, the “non-techie techies” who can act as liaisons, the softer side of IT, if you will. These chameleons go around using their various personas to keep the peace. And although it seems to be having decent results in these arenas, it also has the effect of simply creating a stronger barrier between the rest of the world and the geek.
The other side of this issue is social media. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, many hardcore techies stay away from social media. Or if they do use it, they only converse with their “kind.” As companies begin to encourage social media use as a way of pushing their corporate brand, however, techies might find themselves being forced out of their comfort zones.
So what is a poor, “unlikeable” techie to do?
Although I don’t believe people will likely suddenly become something they are not, we can make an effort to work on some skills (after all, I have spent years honing my ability to report a technical issue to desktop support [read the exact error message received, make sure the computer is actually plugged in and turned on, and prepare to endure long silences and huffs on the other end, which are meant to let me know how dumb I am] even though I really didn’t want to).
Below is a list of “likeability” skills that every techie should work on if they want to have more success in the office that can be adapted to the social media world as well. (Not to worry none of these will require attendance at cocktail parties or HR love fests. In fact, you might find them quite…logical.):
1. Improve response time and consider your tone.
Now, I know that response time is a common issue with most tech departments, one that is constantly being considered and looked into. In this context, I am referring to you as an individual. Do your best to decrease the amount of time it takes you to acknowledge a person’s e-mail, phone call, social media message, etc. This does not mean that you are going to resolve whatever issue he or she has at that moment, but at least acknowledge you received the person’s request. And when you acknowledge, think about the tone you are using.
One good tip is to have a standard acknowledgment statement at the ready that you can copy and paste and make slight adjustments to as needed. Create it when you aren’t under the gun, and ask someone you trust to evaluate the tone of it. This way when someone contacts you, right at the busiest time of the day, you already have a response prepared. Although you don’t want to sound canned, you do want to sound like you recognize that person’s existence and do plan to help him or her.
2. Keep your promises.
Now, if you are going to acknowledge a person’s interaction with you, you need to follow through on what you said you would do. In the tech world, fires pop up all day long. So you don’t want to make promises that are difficult for you to keep. My suggestion would be to give people a range of time for when you will be responding to them so that you aren’t locked in to tomorrow at 2pm or something. Then you need to track that range in your calendar app. Hold yourself accountable. If something does still come up, and your calendar alerts you that you still need to respond to this person, then send him or her a quick note acknowledging that you will need more time. Again, you can have a prepared statement already ready to paste in, customize, and send out.
(I understand you get hundreds of e-mails a day; so do I. It’s life.)
3. Be congruent.
Congruent means to be in harmony with or conforming to the circumstances or requirements of a situation. In other words, make sure that you are working toward creating harmony in the sense that your actions and words move the project forward and not let it stall in the blame-game arena. Also, make sure that your reactions stick to the issue at hand. Don’t vomit out info the user cannot understand anyway or that is way beyond the current situation.
You are probably right. No. Let’s face it. You are right. But if no one understands what that has to do with the current situation, they think you are missing the point. In other words, get to the bottom line.
Learning to be more likeable in the world of work or on social media really doesn’t require an advanced certification, and it really doesn’t require you to burst into the extrovert that you are likely not. But taking a more service-oriented approach can go far for both you and your colleagues.
Overall, people really do respect your skills and expertise; they just aren’t sure how best to approach you.